Director Wise: Happy Anniversary!
This summer, I’ll celebrate 20 years as an educator, 18 years of marriage and three years as director of the Iowa Department of Education. Anniversaries are cause for gratitude, reflection and aspiration. Many of you are celebrating similar personal and professional milestones, and to you I say, “Happy anniversary!”
As I think about anniversaries and reflect on my career, I’ll always remember Landon, Milton, Antonio and McKinley – the first four students to walk into my classroom at Rosa Fort High School in Tunica, Miss. I can still feel the excitement (“Wow, I’m really a teacher with my own classroom!”), the butterflies (“How am I going to make it through the next 52 minutes without sweating through my shirt?”), and the hope (“My students need a great teacher and I’m going to deliver.”) of that first day.
I try to keep that coupling of nervous energy and optimism alive in my role as director. It’s all too easy to fall into familiar patterns, feel satisfied with the status quo and lose the spark that ignited my passion for education. For me, being in classrooms with students and talking to educators help remind me why I love what I do. And while summer provides fewer opportunities to be around students, it provides ample options to connect with the adults who serve them.
At the annual Our Kids Summer Institute, which supports teachers and administrators who serve English Learners, I was inspired by David Edward Garcia, who entertained and challenged the audience with his personal narrative of growing up in two cultures on the Texas/Mexico border. One of his nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me was that when we work with students, the question in our minds should not be, “How smart are you?” but instead, “How are you smart?” Each student possesses unique talents and potential, and as educators, we’re well-positioned to help students discover those gifts.
During the Future Ready Learning Conference, I was motivated by Harvard Business School Professor Joseph Fuller and his presentation, “The Future of the Workforce.” He drove home the point that, given the changing nature of work, without postsecondary credentials, our students will face real challenges in finding workplace success. This reinforces why our efforts to reach the Governor’s Future Ready Iowa goal of 70 percent of Iowans attaining education or training beyond high school is so important.
Many teachers also use the summer to build specific skills, like those who attended the Best Practices in Social Studies Institute. These teachers attended sessions connected to specific best practices in social studies education and to support implementation of the new standards. And in the Des Moines Public School District, hundreds of teachers participated in TechCon 2018, where they learned strategies for using technology to strengthen instruction. At both events, I could feel the energy and enthusiasm of teachers committed to continual improvement.
In addition, the Special Education Symposium drew an impressive 1,700 educators. This two-day conference focused on evidence-based practices and strategies.
And the learning isn’t limited to just teachers in our pre-K through 12th grade schools. I’m looking forward to attending the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees Conference and the Iowa Adult Education and Literacy Conference in July. In addition, school leaders took advantage of opportunities like the Grant Wood AEA Summer Leadership Symposium to enhance their skills in leading collaborative school-wide efforts that result in educational equity and increased student learning.
And finally - one of my favorite examples of educators taking full advantage of summer professional learning - is Benton Ed Camp, a professional learning opportunity that I’ve now attended for four years in a row. At this convening, educators create sessions on topics they want to explore. I took advantage of this year’s Ed Camp to visit with teachers about blended and personalized learning as well as how we can better support Iowa’s English Learners.
Attending professional learning events and reflecting on the anniversaries many of us celebrate in the summer renew our commitment to the education profession. I wish you all happy anniversaries and I hope you’re able to take advantage of the remaining weeks of summer to improve your professional practice.